What started more than 20 years ago as a good idea at the time has turned into the national phenomenon of college basketball.
Recruiting reports have become as popular as the sport itself and have expanded like the national tournament. Coaches rely on them and hard-core fans relish them. They come in various form and depth, many of them regionalized and some specialized for only junior college players.
The first report was created 22 years ago by a part-time travel agent with a full-time obsession with basketball. But the story began even 10 years earlier when Howard Garfinkel was building his reputation as the man in the know about high school basketball in New York City.
"His name kept cropping up as the guy who knew all the players," says Sun Belt Conference Commissioner Vic Bubas, then an assistant at North Carolina State. Bubas, whose assignment was to find players, first had to find Garfinkel.
"Can you imagine going through the Manhattan phone book and calling every Garfinkel? That's what I did," Bubas says. "But I finally got him, we met and talked, and that's how the relationship started."
Bubas moved on to become head coach at Duke University from 1960-69. Garfinkel remained in New York, continuing his passion for basketball while working as a travel agent. The basketball was getting most of the attention, including the publication of a 16-page magazine on high school players and teams.
"I lost my job over the magazine," says Garfinkel, who insists he never planned the next step, the recruiting report that brought recognition. "It just seemed like a good idea at the time. I never thought about what I wanted to do. I never had any goals; goals are for hockey players."
On thin ice financially, Garfinkel turned to what he liked best. Coaches used the magazine for recruiting, and a couple suggested to Garfinkel that he ought to put out a regular report.
"I sent the magazine to every school, 365 I think, and got eight subscriptions for $50 apiece," Garfinkel remembers. "One was Duke. Vic Bubas was the first to buy it. By the end of the year, I had 36 schools."
The interest continued to grow, and for a few years Garfinkel was virtually alone at his game. Then Dave Bones, who previously had done a football report, added one for basketball. Bill Cronauer, then a newspaperman in St. Petersburg, Fla., also joined the game.
One year after he began his recruiting service, Garfinkel and partner Will Klein started the Five-Star Camp in 1966. Cronauer's B/C All-Stars camp started in 1977.
In the 1980s, Garfinkel and Cronauer saw the light and the dollars. The camp business was far more lucrative than recruiting reports. Garfinkel sold his report to friend Tom Konchalski. Cronauer has continued his, though one subscriber says it has suffered atrophy.
"I never made any money, just enough to live on," says Garfinkel. "You figure it out. I had 200 schools paying $200. There were expenses, and the last couple of years I had a partner."
Never mind the advice. Others have rushed forward the last few years to fill the void and make whatever can be made. There are at least 15 recruiting reports available, and the college coaches seem just as anxious as ever to read them. Schools often subscribe to 10 or 12 reports at about $250 each. The total expense of up to $3,000 is only a fraction of the budget for a Division I program. If a coach learns about one player through the report he feels he got a bargain.
"They serve as a tipoff, the first line of information, and some of it is very valuable, especially the academic information and projections," says Dave Odom, assistant at the University of Virginia.
However, the boom in the business is beginning to wear on coaches, who are starting to be more selective.
"Nine years ago, when I came here, there were only three reports," says Roy Williams, an assistant at the University of North Carolina. "Now, it seems I get one a day in the mail. Last year, we took 10. We'll probably take about six this year."
Odom says he's cutting his subscription list in half. "So many of them are redundant, you just get a different opinion on the same kid," he says.
Coaches use the reports for basically the same reasons--find names and information, any tidbit that may prove helpful in evaluation and recruiting. The major programs already know about the top high school juniors and seniors; they want to know who are the better sophomores. The lesser programs more likely are looking for a late-developing senior, someone the big-timers have ignored or rejected.
For Williams and North Carolina, the reports help follow up on leads from well-meaning alumni and fans, who usually are recommending the son of a friend. But for that one chance in a million, Williams will check out the tip.